This week marks the return of a number of modern autumn traditions: pumpkin spice lattes, warm sweaters, and, most notably, destructive Mike Tyson-esque hurricanes. One of several massive storms currently active, Hurricane Florence barreled through the North and South Carolina coastlines Thursday. In anticipation of the storm and its expected fallout, Pacific Standard shed light on some of the unforeseen repercussions of the approaching storm, and the overlooked communities likely to struggle in its aftermath.
As editorial fellow Emily Moon detailed on PSmag.com, flooding from the storm could produce an onslaught of manure and urine from local hog farms into North Carolina residential areas. Similarly, Florence was expected to trigger a heavy upwelling of rivers, which could cross paths with coal ash residue from nearby industrial power plants and breed rampant water contamination.
Despite these nearly apocalyptic conditions, recent research suggests that emergency response resources frequently fail to provide adequate aid, specifically for already underserved communities. For example, although non-whites are more likely to evacuate in response to lower-level storms, minority groups are disproportionately more affected by natural disasters than white victims. As Emily Moon mentions in her article comparing the consequences of Florence to that of hurricanes Katrina and Maria, “racism influenced government decision-making” has historically resulted in a lack of food security or access to drinking water. Furthermore, this unequal distribution of aid also intersects with socioeconomic and disability status, leaving those who "can't afford a disaster" the most vulnerable to further damage.
Given these bleak findings on the realities of natural disaster relief, the United States has a long way to go to ensure its residents are well-equipped for the impending storm. However, as critical disasters historian Jacob Remes bluntly stated in our interview with him in the wake of Hurricane Maria, acknowledging the flaws in the current response system is a valuable first step to providing better aid in the future. "What makes a [natural] disaster is how they intersect with individual and community vulnerability, which is socially constructed," Remes says. "Once we understand this fundamental paradigm, we can understand how disasters are political events with political causes and solutions."
This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive early access to feature stories, an ad-free version of PSmag.com, and other benefits.